Monday, June 23, 2014

Sustainable business

That's my excuse for being in Andalucía for 12 days with a group of nine Santa Clara students. Local arrangements and site visits have all been taken care of by our friends at Universidad Loyola Andalucía, a brand-new Jesuit school based in Seville and Córdoba, so my presence is frankly rather superfluous. I tag along, ask some questions, and try to make sure nobody drinks so much that they can't participate... with this group, I didn't expect problems, and haven't had any. Meanwhile I get to visit three wonderful Spanish cities for the first time: Seville, Málaga, and Córdoba.

So far the site visits have focused more on sustainable technology than sustainable business, which is probably too bad for many of the students, most of whom are not engineering types, but is great for someone like me who is curious about how things work and is endlessly impressed by human ingenuity.

Loyola's Seville campus currently (and temporarily) occupies three buildings in a technology complex recently built by Abengoa, the Spanish multinational construction and energy company. Abengoa has gone big into designing and building renewable energy facilities, including the new 280 megawatt Mojave Solar Project (MSP) in the United States. That facility is based on the parabolic trough technology, which frankly is not very exciting but seems quite effective and scalable. Arrays of long parabolic mirrors focus the sunlight onto tubes containing a fluid that is heated and then flows to a central location where it drives turbines to generate electricity. Much more interesting to see in person is the tower technology, which focuses all the energy from a large mirror array onto a fairly small area at the top of a tall tower, where again a fluid is heated for generation. Here is one of the towers at the solar facility we visited outside of Seville... it's 160 meters high:

Energy storage has been, of course, the Achilles heel of solar. One interesting and very promising development in concentrated solar power is the use of molten salts (instead of, say, water or oil), which can be raised to a very high temperature and then stored for later power generation when the sun is unavailable.

The Abengoa Technology Campus, where the university is based for now, was designed by architect Richard Rogers along with Spanish partners, and is LEED platinum certified—i.e., about as green as you can get. Aesthetically speaking, I found the buildings attractive but rather sterile.

Next up: sewage treatment!

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